Category Archives: hope

Out of Disappointment Comes Determination

People of conscience and thoughtfulness in both political parties are at a crossroads. The events of January 6th and the recent policies of the new administration are troubling many. The legacy of the previous administration was deeply tarnished and the promises of unity and amicable dialogue of the new folks in Washington are remain unfulfilled. Power and punishment, rancor and reaction dominate the public square and there is utter disregard for any fiscal restraint.

Out of the deep disappointment of this moment is an opportunity for a new determination for people that care about the common good and want all Americans engaged in helping their neighbors flourish. Beginning the week of April 5, I will introduce a nine-part series, “The Way Forward.” I will outline pathways of progress on the most challenging issues of our time. Until then, the focus of this essay and the two that will follow will be on the changes in us that provide the soil from which creativity and innovation thrive.

Here are seven “decide ahead of time” choices that help us face the world with confidence and humility, hope and courage.

  • First, we stop lying to ourselves. We must own the areas of self-deceit that capture our hearts and minds. 
  • Second, with our new found humility, we now own our personal choices and get the help we need so that any lingering victim-hood recedes and is replaced by empowerment.
  • Third, while we engage in the political process, we realize that we do not elect messiahs. Some emotional/mental distance from political soundbites will improve our health.
  • Fourth, we choose pathways that help us befriend people very different from ourselves and learn from their sufferings and triumphs.
  • Fifth, we own our historical narratives – all of them. We reject nostalgia and cynicism and recognize the good and the evil in human hearts and social systems.
  • Sixth, we do not wait for government programs to help others in need. Our churches, daily work, local charities, and many other venues offer ways of concretely changing lives.
  • Seventh and supremely, we must return to God in awe and reverence and stop making ourselves the center of the universe. When we follow the way of Christ – a life of service that will include suffering infused with love and hope – we find all our best and deepest longings fulfilled.

Will we spend less time scrolling and more time praying? Will we stop reacting with clenched fists and begin responding with open hands? It all begins with each of us and the choices we make each day.

Why I Have Hope

Someone asked why I am hopeful when so much anger and chaos swirls around us. One answer: Jesus. He is forever one of us through the Incarnation. He is the compassionate one in his maturation and mission. He is our Crucified Savior atoning for our sin and bearing our sorrows, sufferings, and unanswered questions. And now he is the Risen, Ascended and Coming King who is making all things new. He is with us by Holy Spirit is, offering foretastes of the future.

“Nice words, Dr. Self. But I live in the real world and so much is collapsing around me…how does any of this apply to my everyday life? I see moral decay and economic distress, social media meanness, and I wonder what world there will be for the next generations. I get your eternal hope. But what does all this mean for NOW?”

God’s mission of restoring all things has real-life application today – if we trust the revelation and obey his principles in response to grace. Here are some immediate paths forward:

  • We can receive healing from our past and real hope for the future from the inside out as we agree with Scripture that we are NOW “new creations” in Christ. As we accept our identity in Christ as primary, we are able to affirm the best of our cultures and ideas while letting go of unneeded emotional and ideological baggage.
  • The Holy Spirit empowers foretastes of the future: a future with joy and justice, worship and meaningful work, all in a transformed community. With these thoughts in mind, we can apply our energies and skills in our work to make our communities safer, sustainable, and beautiful.
  • We now have the ability for critical thinking free from a critical spirit. Put simply, we can evaluate ideas and evidences, policies and programs while showing love and respect to all – even those that oppose all we stand for.
  • We can forge alliances with people of conscience of all faiths or none that care about a better future. Leaving the anger behind and the untethered from grasping for power, creativity and innovation become possible.

There is much more that Christian hope brings to the world. Humble confidence and hopeful realism infuse our daily lives. We can labor with love for God and our neighbors, knowing that are efforts have meaning and will serve generations yet unborn.

The Hope of Christmas: The With-Us-God

The influence of Christianity and celebrations of winter solstice came together by the 5th century. From that moment to the present, Christians of every tradition have celebrated the Advent Season and Christmas as the dawn of hope, the moment where the Eternal stepped into time and God forever became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth.

For much of history, commemorations were solemn, with Advent, like its Spring counterpart Lent, understood as a time of prayer and sacrifice. With the work of St. Francis and others in the 13th century, Madonna and Child become iconic and celebrations begin, albeit in modest forms. Martin Luther commended lighting the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree), transforming a pagan ritual into a celebration of Jesus as the Light of the world.

The Victorian era is the source of most Western/global Christmas imagery and festivities and only in the late 19th and early 20th century has Christmas become the holiday we know and love today. Many devout Christians still resist this celebration, disliking the pagan influences and the excuse for excess.

The Hope of Christmas is the promise of salvation and peace through the coming of Jesus. This humble son of a carpenter is declared by angels and shepherds, aging prophets and faraway magi as King of the Jews and Savior of humankind. Songwriter Michael Card declares:

“Behold the mystery fantastic and wild; A Mother made by her own Child.”

Author G.K. Chesterton offers this as we ponder the Incarnation:

Gloria en Profundis

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

The Biblical Story is not one of human ascent to the divine, but of divine longing and pursuit of our race of rebels. It is God that reaches out, God who searches, God who invites…and finally, God who comes in Jesus and makes the ultimate sacrifice for our eternal life. In the words of Linus, “That is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

History Brings Hope: The Church in Times of Crisis, Part 1

As we weather the coronavirus, we must be vigilant and wise, while retaining helpfulness to our neighbors and hopefulness to a world awash in fear. This is a moment to be thankful for local churches and charities as people under economic and emotional pressure experience the weight of very trying circumstances.

It is right to lament and repent for the moral scandals that often plague religious communities. Today’s 24/7 news cycle brings negative news with an immediacy that is jarring…and helps us forget all the good things that are happening through the efforts of millions of caring people, including people in our local churches.

In this essay, I want to recount some bright moments when the Church expressed her best virtues and served sacrificially, even when under great duress. Generosity is baked into the gospel and the mission of the Church. The Apostle Paul spent years evangelizing Jews and Gentiles – and he called upon the non-Jewish believers in Christ to sacrificially give toward their Jewish brothers and sisters suffering under a severe famine in Judea (Acts 11-20; 2 Corinthians 8-9). In addition to examples of Jesus and biblical texts extolling helping others, here are some heroic moments that can inspire us in our current situations:

249-250 AD: Emperor Decius declares an empire-wide assault on Christians, including demanding that they sacrifice to Caesar, and the destruction of buildings and libraries. At the same time, a serious plague came upon several places in the empire (coincidence?). The governors charged with carrying out this evil edict petitioned the Emperor and requested a delay in persecution. Why? Because it was Christians that were offering care and comfort to plague victims! Even under severe pressure, they were caring for all, enemy and friend alike.

440s and 450s: As Attila the Hun and other outsiders carve up the Western Roman Empire, it is the Church that maintains order and distributes food amidst the conquests. The Popes negotiated with the conquerors and ameliorated (in places) some of the atrocities and enable food to get to the populace.

6th and 7th centuries: The Benedictine Order and other monastic groups are doing much more than praying. They are establishing the first hostels for visitor, hospices for the dying, and rudimentary hospitals for the sick. They also add to the overall economy with sustainable agriculture, waterwheel technology and generosity.

12th-15th centuries: Long before the Reformation, Roman Catholic scholars are teaching the goodness of free trade and natural pricing in contrast to the mercantile controls governments often placed on goods. The University of Salamanca in Spain led the way in affirming what we now know as the principles of ethical free enterprise, in service of, “The brotherhood of Mankind.”

The Reformation (16th century): We see a leap forward in affirming “ordinary” work as equally important to God as “religious” labor. Without denigrating the importance of sacerdotal leadership, all Protestant streams affirm the priesthood of all believers (see Exodus 19:6 and I Peter 2:9-10), offering one’s daily efforts as worship before God. And this led to unprecedented expansions in charitable giving, entrepreneurship, and economic change.

In the next essay, we will examine the last five centuries of goodness through the Church, without sugarcoating the historical challenges. May we be inspired in our context toward creativity and innovation.

Love During a Pandemic: A Special Message of Hope

Dear Friends,
We are praying for God’s peace and wisdom for all as we endure a very challenging season. This is a moment for hopeful realism, for faithfulness under pressure, sober thinking, and eternal hope. I encourage us all to read Psalm 46 and Hebrews 12 – in these “shaking” moments, God is working, refining our character and allowing the Church to be a beacon of spiritual power and sanity.

Here is a special work by Kathy, entitled, “You See Broken; I see Mended” The “I” is the Lord, who brings the power of the Cross to bear in every situation.

This painting was being finished with another theme – that of heavenly power and purity. In the process of moving it, it was torn. At first, it felt like everything was ruined…but Kathy saw an opportunity and wove a cross into the painting. One of God’s names in Yahweh-Rapha, the Lord our Healer. The Hebrew term for healing includes the image of mending by stitching. God love to take the scars and tears and create a wellspring of compassion and wisdom. 

Friends, today we have an opportunity to share faith, hope, and love in a world paralyzed by fear. Yes, we need to follow sound guidelines and navigate health concerns with wisdom. But we have many channels open – from personal conversations to virtual communication. Above all, we can affirm and demonstrate hope and share Christ with all around us. We are not immune to suffering; however, we serve a Lord who suffered and triumphed over all sin and sickness, sorrow and sadness and in his resurrection, Jesus offers a preview of the glorious future awaiting all who place their trust in him! (Hebrews 2-5; 11-13)

Let’s stay faithful to our local church in this moment. We do this by attending the online services, generously giving, and being available to help those in need. Our pastors and communities need us more than ever. Let’s stay faithful in prayer and support of the ministries we care about. These organizations are serving sacrificially and our generosity matters.

Understanding this hour: the spiritual warfare is real!

As we grow in character, experience new depths of community, and work for the common good, it is important we remember that we have an adversary, who, unlike our wonderful Lord, is out to deceive, dehumanize, destroy, discourage, and distort present circumstances. Our best posture in humble confidence in our Advocate, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. We combat our enemy with love and truth: exchanging deception for integrity, dehumanization for affirming God’s image in all, destruction with creativity, combatting discouragement with hope, and confronting distortion with pure hearts and skillful hands, bringing beauty to brokenness.

May the Lord bring his comfort and peace to you during this unique Lenten Season.